When the unruly buddha was a little girl, she wanted to stay up all night. She sat in her family’s backyard and looked up at the moon and the stars, and she thought the heavens’ nightly display was the most magnificent show. Night after night, she sat in the yard and watched the stars move across the sky, the moon work through its phases, and the planets make their looping motions across in the black velvet of the nighttime sky. But she could never force her body to stay awake all night. She’d fall asleep and then wake up a few hours later, her face covered in sun and dew.
The next night, she’d go back out again and see the subtle way the patterns in the sky had changed. The sunset was different, and the stars came up above the horizon at a slightly different time. If she hadn’t been paying attention, she probably wouldn’t have noticed; she probably would’ve thought it was the same as the night before. But the unruly buddha knew better. She thought about how the stars and the moon and the planets obeyed the words of the wise of the sage Goethe: “Do not hurry, do not rest.” They moved across the sky, night after night, never in a particular rush to do so, and never seeming to rest.
The unruly buddha sought to emulate the stars, to be steadfast and unhurrying, always headed forward, never worried about the pace of change and how it compared to others around her.
The days grew longer and the nights shorter, and the hot, humid air began to blow in from the Gulf. The unruly buddha waited for the sun to set, her body showered and pajama’d, her teeth brushed: every scrap and scrape of the day’s play and delight scrubbed away so that she could fully enjoy the star show. As the sky changed from orange to indigo, she sat herself down under the tall pine, her back against its trunk, and she faced east to see which stars would rise first.
But as the stars began to gather, as the night pulled back its curtain, the unruly buddha felt a little sting on her leg. She gave it little thought, but returned her attention to the skies. A few minutes later, however, she felt another and then another. She brushed a dozen or more of these tiny stings aside before she realized that her legs were now able with itchy little bumps. She scratched at them and rubbed at them. She even felt the sting of the sweat on her skin mix with those bumps. But the unruly buddha did her best to keep her attention on the stars.
After a while, her father ventured out into the yard and sat next to her. He asked her what she saw and how she knew which star was which why that one was so bright and this other so dim. The unruly buddha answered his questions. She explained the skies to him. She revealed to him the patterns she found, the characters in the constellations, the way she could predict what would happen next by telling a story.
Her father listened and asked questions and smiled.
As she was telling him about the cat that had just risen and how it was chasing another group of stars that she thought looked very much like a big, beautiful moth, her father slapped at his leg. The unruly buddha was startled and looked over to see him pull his hand away. In the dim light from the window above the kitchen sink, she could see a tiny smudge on his hand. Blood.
“Damn mosquitoes,” her father said. “C’mon, let’s go inside before we get eaten alive out here.”
With a heavy heart, the unruly buddha did as her father told her. She stood up and walked back toward the house. Her father walked alongside her, which always made her feel good because he was big and warm and tried his best to take good care of her. She wanted so badly to stay outside and watch the stars, but her father had said she might be eaten alive, and perhaps that was too high a price to pay for one evening’s entertainment.
They neared the backdoor, and her father put his hand on her back to guide her inside. His strong hand and its gentle touch felt like a warm hug.
But almost immediately, he pulled his hand away.
She looked up at him and saw frustration and annoyance in his eyes.
“Dammit,” he said, “You’ve got tree sap all over your pajamas. Go upstairs and change.”
And the unruly buddha did as she was told.